The ballots for the Denver city elections will be arriving in mere days and, like most folks, I’m on the fence about the mayor’s race. I keep waiting for someone to break away from the pack or even come up with a catchy slogan, but so far, the candidates seem restrained, cautious and boring.

So, I guess it’s up to me to provide an oversimplified, superficial and patently unfair guide to the contenders before the blizzard of advertising buries the city in air-brushed, manipulative and patently ridiculous messages from the candidates.

The gloves will come off for sure in the runoff election, but we’re not there yet. The candidates are still exceedingly civilized, and we have to bear up and pick a couple to advance.

So, leave it to me to throw a few punches to make things more interesting.

For no particular reason, I’ve selected seven candidates to watch. There really are too many to follow at this point, so I apologize to those I’m overlooking. Clearly, you should have been more provocative.

Here are the few who have caught my attention so far: 

I’ve known Ean Thomas Tafoya for a while and while I think he’s a distant longshot, I’m drawn to his unapologetic pissed-offedness. 

The guy is justifiably angry about what has happened to Denver at the hands of polluters and their government enablers. It’s not just Suncor poisoning the city, he has said, but 189 reckless businesses that are operating in violation of federal environmental laws. He has been working with U.S. Rep. Diana DeGette to address the problem, but the city needs to step up.

Time to hold them accountable, he says. Damn straight, Ean. Never give up.

Kelly Brough is a familiar face who has serious management chops and vast experience in the community. She knows how to steer the wheels of government, and as a result of that obvious confidence she comes off as supremely qualified but bloodless, maybe even a bit chilly.

She has a detailed plan to address homelessness and doesn’t shy away from tough questions about closing down encampments and dealing with people who resist efforts to enroll in  substance abuse and mental health treatment programs.

She said she opposes supervised injection sites for drug users “for personal reasons” based on her experiences dealing with people who have struggled with addiction. Fair enough.

But on other questions, she can be, let’s just say, unforthcoming.

In a recent 9News debate, she claimed that she really, really supports the concept of paid family leave, but not the way it would have been implemented under a bill considered by the legislature in 2020. She sounded almost Clintonesque in her duplicity.

As president of the Denver Chamber of Commerce, Brough represented the business interests of Suncor, one of its members. When asked if she had any regrets from her tenure with the chamber, her answer was simple. “No.”

C’mon, really?

Meanwhile, State Rep. Leslie Herod noted that the chamber under Brough was unequivocally “No. 1 in opposition” to the paid family leave bill. Herod is clearly still chapped about it. Brough remains cool as glass.

While Herod is known for getting things done, including spearheading the Caring for Denver ballot initiative and getting 150 bills passed in the legislature, her success has inevitably drawn potshots from critics.

A prime target is her advocacy for the Enhance Law Enforcement Integrity Act, which was enacted in 2021 and most famously eliminated qualified immunity for police officers. Some mayoral candidates, including Brough, cite the act as a reason for the difficulty the city has had in recruiting police officers. 

Herod, the daughter of a law enforcement officer, stands her ground. “Ending qualified immunity is the right thing to do,” she said. “People deserve to be safe.”

Mike Johnston, a familiar name on Colorado election ballots, is the tiny house candidate.

His plan to address homelessness envisions neighborhoods of tiny houses where people who have lived together in encampments can relocate their communities into tiny house neighborhoods and live in tiny peace and harmony.

He also wants to reduce crime by putting more “first responders” — not just cops — on the streets to restore “civility.”

Chris Hansen wants to do a tough audit on city spending on the homeless problem and bring “evidence-based” budgeting to bear on any and all proposed solutions. He said nonprofits are “doing amazing work” providing housing, while the city is spending $250 million this year with questionable results.

But Hansen’s TV ad, one of the first to air in the race, has drawn attention away from his earnest policy messaging. 

To say it bombed is painfully polite.

The 30-second ad includes a quick segment that depicts people of color living in tents and committing crimes in the city. In fairness, it also appears to include a white guy stealing something off a front porch.

But the blowback has been intense. Tafoya said Hansen should denounce the ad and take it down. Herod said the ad is “offensive and scary.”

Hansen said the reaction is “overwrought.”

Never mind, Chris. It’s too late. The damage is done.

In contrast, Lisa Calderon’s messaging is pitch-perfect. She said the city needs “evidence-based” programs to address homelessness. “We need to start treating people with dignity. I’ve been homeless. When you talk about those people, you’re talking about me.”

The city needs to “demand more from developers,” who, she said, have been handed the keys to the city while they build endless luxury condo and apartment buildings and little or no affordable housing.

She supports supervised injection sites, which she prefers to call “overdose prevention sites.”

Her skillful messaging makes it hard to disagree with her.

Finally, there’s Trinidad Rodriguez, the wild card.

Oozing reasonableness, compassion and competence, Rodriguez understands public finance and has deep connections in the community.

Sure crime, homelessness and youth violence are serious problems, he said, but they’ll never be solved without aggressive sustained action to deal with poverty in the city. He proposes greatly expanded programs for mental health and substance abuse treatment, and an additional $150 million for public safety.

The money would come from cuts to the budgets of other city departments, including snow removal. (Boo!) “When business comes roaring back, we’ll restore the money from the cuts,” he said.

Love that optimism.

OK, all this is superficial and unfair, as advertised, especially so for the 10 or so other candidates in the race I ignored completely. But it’s not too late to get to know them. 

The mayoral hopefuls will be showing their stuff in a few more debates, so quit wasting your time watching “Yellowstone” and tune in. Scroll their campaign websites. Do your homework.

The city is in a bad way. We need a good mayor. Let’s not blow it.


Diane Carman is a Denver communications consultant.

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